Michal Pivonka first caught the attention of NHL scouts as a result of his standout performance at the 1983 European Junior Championships where he was named to the tournaments all-star team. He kept up his stellar play at World Junior tournaments in 1985 and 1986, winning a gold medal in the latter outing.
He was selected 59th overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals. Pivonka expressed a strong interest in defecting to the NHL but insisted on completing his required military service before making the jump.
He joined the Caps in 1986-87 and filled an important void created by the retirement of Bengt Gustafsson. Pivonka centred a line between Bobby Gould and Gatean Duchesne, making a good impression from the start with his strong skating, excellent passing, and willingness to play physically.
Pivonka remained as a fixture with the Caps for 12 seasons. By the early nineties, fellow countryman Petr Bondra joined the club, uniting with Pivonka to make an effective offensive duo. In tandem, they raised each other's game with Pivonka scoring a career- high 80 points in 80 games during the 1991-92 campaign.
By the end of the decade, however, his numbers and his legs began to slow. In 1999, he was dispatched to the Kansas City Blades of the IHL where he completed his pro career in 2000.